Ben Simmons exits with injury and ragged Sixers fall to 2nd straight loss

Ben Simmons exits with injury and ragged Sixers fall to 2nd straight loss


The Sixers have their first losing streak of the season, and they also lost an All-Star to injury Wednesday night.

They fell in Utah to the Jazz, 106-104, and Ben Simmons left early after sustaining an injury. Joel Embiid (27 points on 5 for 16 shooting, 16 rebounds) came back into the lineup after a two-game suspension for a fight last week with the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns.

The Nuggets are up next for the 5-2 Sixers on Friday (9 p.m./NBCSP).

Here are observations from the loss: 

Simmons exits early 

Simmons left in the second quarter with a right shoulder injury. He was diagnosed with a minor sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder and will be re-evaluated Thursday. Simmons appeared to injure the shoulder when he fell on his back with a little over 11 minutes left in the first, as you can see in the video above.

Though Simmons hasn’t met early-season expectations offensively, he entered Wednesday’s game with an NBA-best 20 steals.  

The temporary replacement plan

After spending the first four years of his career with the Jazz, Raul Neto played much more than the Sixers would have planned in his return to Utah.

He defended Donovan Mitchell (24 points on 10 for 23 shooting) well overall, forcing him into several contested mid-range attempts during a stint late in the first quarter and early in the second. Neto had a ragged stretch in the third period, sprinting in for a layup attempt that hit the underside of the rim and then dribbling into traffic for a careless turnover on the Sixers’ next possession. He finished with 11 points on 5 for 11 shooting, four assists, four turnovers and three steals in 30 minutes. 

Furkan Korkmaz, who started the second half in Simmons’ place, had six points on 2 of 4 shooting in 24 minutes. 

In Simmons’ absence, Josh Richardson handled the ball more and followed up his worst game as a Sixer (8 points on 3 for 11 shooting vs. the Suns) with his best from a scoring standpoint. He scored 24 points on 8 for 13 shooting.

Not peak Embiid

Embiid wasn’t his sharpest and he looked tired at times, putting his hands on his knees and not exerting effort except when he absolutely needed to. 

A one legged, Dirk Nowitzki-esque shot was the highlight of his night. 

Though Embiid drew 18 free throws, Brown thought he should have had two more in the third quarter and was assessed a technical foul for vehemently expressing that opinion. It was a frustrating game across the board for the Sixers, though they hung around and cut Utah’s lead to two points with a little over two minutes to go after being down by as many as 13 in the second half.

Time to tweak the pick-and-roll defense? 

The Sixers’ preference with pick-and-roll defense has been to “force the ball off the screen” and drop the big man. We’ve seen during this road trip how that approach is often ineffective when the ball handler’s defender fails to work over the screen and falls well behind the play, resulting in open mid-range jumpers. Mitchell made his first four shots of the game Wednesday, including a couple of uncontested mid-range looks off pick-and-rolls. 

While Embiid is an excellent overall defender, he’s not quite as flexible in pick-and-roll coverage as Al Horford. It’s understandable why there’s a team-wide desire to drop the big man into what assistant coach Ime Udoka calls “center field.” 

At some point, though, perhaps the Sixers will consider tempering their guard’s aggression in defending the initial ball screen. Richardson and Matisse Thybulle are skilled at the “rearview contest,” but, with how often the Sixers’ guards are being wiped out of the play, it might make sense to try some more frequent variations to their core philosophy in that area. 

Harris and Horford drop off 

Horford and Tobias Harris combined for 104 points on 56.9 percent shooting during Embiid’s suspension. They faded into the background a bit against the Jazz offensively when Embiid was on the floor, with the odd burst into the spotlight.

The two totaled 23 points on 7 for 25 shooting Wednesday. While the Sixers did attempt to center the offense more around Horford early in the third quarter and ran plenty of pick-and-roll with Harris early in the fourth, both missed some shots they’d normally convert. 

The Sixers’ post offense around Embiid was largely stationary. While that’s in part by design to provide Embiid with outlets in specific floor spots, the Sixers could use a little more movement. It would also help if Embiid held the ball less before making his move — the whole offense sometimes comes to a stop when he’s down low.

In Embiid’s first game back, though, that’s not a serious concern. One can understand his instinct to be deliberate with the ball after not playing a competitive game for a week. 

If Embiid further develops as a playmaker and ball mover, more opportunities will open up for Harris and Horford when the starters are on the floor. 

A bad night on the boards 

The Sixers entered Wednesday’s game having grabbed 55 percent of available rebounds, best in the NBA. 

They got outrebounded for the second straight game, and the margin Wednesday was significant —Utah had a 50 to 42 edge. 

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2020 NBA draft profile: Payton Pritchard's elite ball handling, unlimited range should entice Sixers

2020 NBA draft profile: Payton Pritchard's elite ball handling, unlimited range should entice Sixers

Payton Pritchard

Position: PG
Height: 6-2
Weight: 190
School: Oregon

The NCAA Tournament being cancelled will likely affect several draft prospects. Oregon’s Payton Pritchard seems to be one of them. The senior guard led the Ducks to a 24-7 record and the team won the Pac-12 regular season title with a 13-5 mark. Pritchard leading a strong tourney run could’ve helped his draft stock.

As it stands, Pritchard’s resume is still pretty darn impressive. He was a consensus All-American in 2019-20 and won Pac-12 Player of the Year. He averaged 20.5. points, 5.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game in his final collegiate season.


Pritchard has a reputation as a tireless worker and dogged competitor. As mentioned, he was the true leader of an Oregon team that had a chance to do serious damage in the NCAA Tournament. He excelled in a much larger scoring role his senior season.

He seems to have the ball on a string with advanced handling skills. His father told a reporter that his son practices dribbling “until his hands bleed.” While he’s not the most explosive guard, his ability to change speeds and understanding of when to do so is a huge asset.

He also has good vision and awareness. Despite a high usage rate, Pritchard’s turnover numbers didn’t grow exponentially. He averaged 4.6 assists and two turnovers a game during his time in Eugene.

Outside of a down season in 2018-19, Pritchard has proven to be an elite shooter. He’s fearless with unlimited range. This play against Washington in overtime got a much deserved “ONIONS!” call from Bill Raftery.

That game was sort of a microcosm of Pritchard. Oregon struggled against Washington’s zone for much of the game. Pritchard patiently picked his spots but took over at times when his team needed him to.

Despite being just 6-foot-2, Pritchard is solidly built and did flash potential as an off-ball defender with 1.5 steals a game. He’s also a solid rebounder for his height, which helps him be able to push the pace.


The height will likely be an issue at the next level. He also doesn’t have long arms or the lateral quickness it would seem to take to defend NBA guards. It’s hard to gauge against the zone, but he may also struggle to battle through screens.

He’s not particularly athletic or explosive. Though his ball handling skills are excellent, he does struggle to turn the corner on quicker defenders. The lack of explosion also led to him struggling to finish against length at the rim.

While he has NBA skills, he does not possess a strong physical NBA profile.


As a player that can play with and back up Ben Simmons, Pritchard could be a decent fit. Pritchard's ability as a shooter and advanced ball handling would mesh well with Simmons' elite ability as a screener and roller. Simmons’ size and defensive prowess could help cover Pritchard’s deficiencies. 

While he took on a scoring role this season, Pritchard isn’t the type of player to force things. As a point guard that likes to push the ball up the floor, he could fit in well with the Sixers’ pace and space style.

Because of his lack of height and athleticism, he will likely be around for the Sixers in the middle of the second round. He seems worth a flyer there because of his steady improvement and work ethic. He's not the type of player you bet against despite his physical limitations.

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Joel Embiid's 'mentality just completely changed' after All-Star Game success

Joel Embiid's 'mentality just completely changed' after All-Star Game success

The coronavirus pandemic has altered our everyday lives. It’s caused many to self-reflect and find out new things about themselves.

So, what has Joel Embiid found out about himself with all this time on his hands while the NBA season is suspended?

“I’ve discovered that I’m not that good at video games,” Embiid said to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Marc Zumoff.

The All-Star center, whose game of choice is still FIFA, went on to explain the evolution of his player in career mode. That’s not to say Embiid hasn’t been taking the situation in our world seriously. Embiid pledged to donate $500,000 to COVID-19 medical relief efforts back in March.

Even as the NBA appears to be closer to a return, Embiid is still emphasizing safety — though he misses playing in front of the Wells Fargo Center crowd.

“First of all, I want everybody to remain safe. I want to be safe,” Embiid said. “This is nothing to play with. You don’t know what can happen. But when the time is right and everything is safe and I can be on the court, I feel like what I’m going to be missing the most is just being out there, winning for the city of Philadelphia, representing the city of Philadelphia, and just going out there and dominating.”

The 26-year-old felt like he was turning a corner before the stoppage. He had two of his more dominant outings of the season after the All-Star break, including putting up a career-high 49 points against the Hawks.

It was an odd first half to the season, but outside of a shoulder injury that cost him five games, Embiid was looking more like his old self after the break.

“I feel like before the season got shut down, I was on that path,” Embiid said. “Especially after that All-Star Game, my mentality just completely changed. First part of the season, it wasn’t up to my standards — not even close. I was on that path to just changing all that and making it happen.”

Of course, what would an article about Joel Embiid be if health and fitness level weren’t mentioned? Embiid’s career has been mired by injuries. When he’s missed time, whether because of injury or load management, he’s admitted that he can get out of shape quickly. He hasn’t played a game since March 11.

GM Elton Brand said earlier this month that he “wouldn’t bet against” Embiid coming back ready to play. His head coach took it even a step further.

“Joel's always a topic. We get it,” Brett Brown said back on May 15. “The importance that he represents as being a complete parallel to can you win a championship or not, is real. I've had many conversations with Jo. I spoke with him 30 minutes ago, and he's got a real desire to be at a playing weight that equals his best since he's been in the league.”

No matter what the format looks like, the Sixers won’t have an easy road ahead if/when the NBA resumes play. It seems like they could meet the Celtics in the first round, a team that knocked the Sixers out of the playoffs in 2018.

Like anyone missing basketball, Embiid watched “The Last Dance” documentary. There are some parallels to be made as Embiid and Ben Simmons have had their share of disappointment in the postseason. Much like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen did with the “Bad Boy” Pistons, the Sixers’ All-Star duo may have to overcome their playoff boogeymen in Boston and Toronto.

Embiid believes he can push his teammates the same way Jordan once did.

“I did watch it. It was interesting,” Embiid said. “I saw a lot of similarities and a lot of people have told me that. … I can also be that guy, I just need to keep putting in the work and that’s what I’ve been doing.”

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